In yesterday’s analysis, we examined voter registration changes in Louisiana since 2009. In this analysis, we will narrow our focus to the swing parish of East Baton Rouge, which is where the state capital is located.
December 2013 statistics
East Baton Rouge voter registration (active and inactive) on December 2, 2013 was 278,315. This figure was actually a decrease of 5,496 from December 2012, which is not an unusual decrease, since there was a voter purge conducted after the 2012 elections. Furthermore, East Baton Rouge Parish is home to two universities (LSU and Southern), which means you have a significant amount of voter turnover among the student demographic between Presidential election cycles.
The current racial breakdown of East Baton Rouge Parish is 53-43% white/black, and party registration is 49.5% Democratic, 28% Republican, and 23% Independent.
If you were to drill down further by examining party preference by race, white voters are 49-26% Republican (25% are Independents). This is substantially more Republican than statewide, which is 40-34% Republican for white voters. There are several reasons for this 2:1 GOP preference among white voters: (1) East Baton Rouge Parish’s white voters have been hospitable to the Republican party decades before Republicans gained a statewide presence (in fact, Republicans were winning parish wide races as long ago as the 1970s), (2) the presence of the petrochemical industry and a growing medical industry has created a Republican constituency, (3) the presence of major industries in East Baton Rouge Parish (government, universities, and petrochemical) means that you have a transient population of people who brought their Republican voting habits with them from elsewhere into what was once Democratic territory.
Given the substantial black and Republican voting bases in the parish, white Democrats represent an insignificant (and shrinking) proportion of East Baton Rouge Parish’s electorate: their influence has shrunk from 14.1 to 13.7% in the past 12 months – about half of the percentage influence white Democrats have statewide.
Black voters, however, remain staunch Democrats here and statewide: black voters are 80.5-2% Democratic/Republican, just a bit down from the December 2012 figures of 81-2%.
About 5% of voters in East Baton Rouge Parish are Asian or Hispanic, and they strongly skew against being affiliated with a political party: Asians/Hispanics are 50% Independent, 29% Democratic, and 22% Republican. These figures are similar to 12 months ago (although there has been a small increase from 49 to 50% Independent), and are nearly identical to the statewide figures for Asians/Hispanics.
Unlike the state of Louisiana, East Baton Rouge is even more racially polarized: as the metropolitan area expands into Livingston and Ascension Parishes (and, to a lesser extent, into Iberville, West Baton Rouge, and West Feliciana parishes), the migration to those parishes has been primarily of white conservative voters. A demographic consequence of this movement is the developing parity in terms of racial voter registration. Therefore, the velocity of the trends is significantly different than it is statewide if your comparison period is the time since the first presidential inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009. Those trends are as follows:
Demographic shifts: Demographic changes are the major driver behind the past, current, and future electoral preferences of East Baton Rouge Parish voters. In addition to the fact that the black voter population has increased from 41 to 43% over the past five years, the white electorate in terms of both percentages AND absolute numbers has steadily declined over the past five years (and, in fact, has been steadily declining since 2000, which is the oldest data the Secretary of State has available). This alone has major political implications: from 1983 (when the first Republican sheriff was elected in East Baton Rouge) to 2003 (when a Republican was elected Coroner), Republicans steadily captured each parishwide elected office, to the point that all parishwide elected officials were Republican by 2004. The tide has shifted since then: Democrats recaptured the Mayor’s office in 2004, and in 2008, the DA’s office was recaptured by the Democrats after 24 years of GOP control. Additionally, Barack Obama carried the parish both in 2008 and 2012. East Baton Rouge Parish is no longer a reliable Republican parish, and assuming that current trends continue, it will become more and more difficult for Republicans to win parishwide offices.
Curiously, the Asian/Hispanic population (from a percentage standpoint) has not substantially changed relative to the increase in the black voter population. What this means politically is that this “swing vote” is relatively static and will have its greatest proportionate influence in the near term (when black voter registration reaches parity with white voter registration).
(White) Democratic decline: Given the demographic changes in East Baton Rouge Parish, the decline in white Democratic influence is not as noticeable, although it is still occurring: over the past five years, there has been a 8K decline in the number of white Democrats (while in absolute numbers, Republicans have picked up 2.5K adherents). In terms of percentage influence, the number of white Democrats in East Baton Rouge Parish has declined from 17% (or 46K) to 13.7% (or 38K). It’s also worth noting that the 14% of the EBR electorate who are white Democrats is substantially less than it is statewide (21.5%). And unlike the statewide numbers, white Democrats have not been a majority of the Democratic Party locally since 2000 (the oldest data available with the Secretary of State), and today, white Democrats only represent 28% of the Democratic electorate.
Republican gains: Even though parishwide voter registration statistics have stubbornly remained at 28% Republican since 2000, the white electorate has steadily become more Republican: five years ago, Republicans had a 47-31% edge locally among white voters: today, that edge has increased to 49-26% Republican. So even though Republicans face increasing difficulty with winning parishwide elections, Republicans now hold all white majority legislative and Metrocouncil districts.